We see limited use of cryptocurrencies as payment for child sexual abuse material

We see limited use of cryptocurrencies as payment for child sexual abuse material
2 May, 2019 Guest Writer

We see limited use of cryptocurrencies as payment for child sexual abuse material

According to finance coalitions around the world, cryptocurrencies pose a current and future threat to victim identification efforts and investigations into child sexual abuse crime. In the research presented in the NetClean Report 2018 we see that police officers relatively rarely see cryptocurrencies in child sexual abuse investigation, and when they do it is often in connection to other types of crime.

Here Thomas Andersson from ECPAT Sweden elaborates on  the use of cryptocurrencies and why they currently do not feature largely in online child sexual abuse investigations.

By Thomas Andersson, ECPAT Sweden.

In our experience it is extremely rare that child sexual abuse material is sold on the internet. Offenders either search for the readily available free material, or they trade images and films with each other. This is facilitated by big or small international online networks where offenders can discuss child sexual abuse and share material that they have produced. These spaces are also used to exchange tips, experiences and information about security issues.

Fake pages are common

With that said, we sometimes encounter what looks like ecommerce pages, or pages that seem to be commercial pages, but they are almost always a scam. Anyone who hands over their name and credit card details in order to buy child sexual abuse would be the perfect victim of a crime.

We have also seen pages on TOR that seem to be selling child sexual abuse material. The prices are given in Bitcoin, but as a rule there is no payment button. In order to pay, the offender has to email a ProtonMail address to get instructions for payment.

Payments using Bitcoin

One example is a page on TOR that purports to sell access to live-streamed child sexual abuse. The page used to advertise recurring events where they charged one Bitcoin to view and ten Bitcoin to direct the abuse. The value of one Bitcoin at that time was the equivalent of 7,000 – 8,000 SEK (ca. €650-770 or $US770-880 today, which is hugely more expensive than the couple of hundred kronor that Swedish offenders have been known to pay for live-streamed abuse from the Philippines).

It is possible that this site, along with other similar pages on TOR is fake and that those who pay don’t get anything in return. These types of pages do however contain some of the most brutal child sexual abuse material that we have seen, posted with the purpose to “advertise” the content and to convince visitors that the site is real.

“Producers of child sexual abuse material would find that their customer base would be too small if they insisted on using a niche cryptocurrency.”

We have not seen cryptocurrencies in live-streaming cases

We have seen the use of internet based payment services connected to websites that sell web-cam shows as a means to pay for live-streamed child sexual abuse. However we have not seen request for cryptocurrencies there. I believe we have a problem on our hands if cryptocurrencies are being used, as reported by some of the police officers in this report. Crime that has been facilitated by cryptocurrencies is very difficult to investigate and these crimes cause a great deal of suffering to child victims.

If we look to the future, new cryptocurrencies that come with increased security features could pose big challenges. However, there are so few users of this type of currency that the risks are relatively low. Producers of child sexual abuse material would find that their customer base would be too small if they insisted on using a niche cryptocurrency.

ECPAT Sweden

ECPAT Sweden is an NGO that works to combat all forms of child sexual exploitation. ECPAT Sweden is part of an international network of organisations based in more than 90 countries.